11 Essential Films and Series to Watch Before ‘Stranger Things’ Returns

We all know Stranger Things will return next year. However, as Tom Petty once articulated, the waiting is the hardest part. And while I think it’s rude that Netflix has refused to move up Season 4’s release despite my well-thought-out Powerpoint presentations, we all have to accept that’s just how it is going to be.

What we don’t have to do is sit around waiting for the show’s return with nothing else to do. There’s a vast streaming universe out there. Years and years of television and films await your eyes and ears. None of them may be Stranger Things, per se, but we’re betting these 11 selections will keep you plenty pleased until Season 4 hits Netflix. And, who knows, you might even find your next favorite thing.

1. IT Chapter 1

It Chapter 1

A collection of tweens bands together to fight an evil they barely understand. Unfortunately, the town’s adults are either clueless, cowardly, corrupted, or some combination therein. Human bullies further complicate the situation. Friendship might save them, but that doesn’t stop them from experiencing tragedy along the way. Oh, and it’s an ’80s period piece with Finn Wolfhard as part of the ensemble.

This is a description of Stranger Things, yes. However, it also fits IT Chapter 1 like a glove.

In this case, the creature from another realm is IT, but you’ll perhaps know it best as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. A shapeshifting entity as old as time, Pennywise can know and appear as children’s greatest fears. Once terrified, children apparently taste wonderful to Pennywise. Only the better to gobble them up, body and soul.

Besides the plot and cast similarities, IT makes the list because of the tone. Like the kind of Things, IT’s Losers Club are outsiders trying to hang onto each other while time, puberty, hormones, and otherworldly monsters try to literally and figuratively pull them apart. Both pieces, shot through with a sweet sense of melancholy, give moments of horror that hit harder as a result. We know even if the kids make it out of their respective situations alive, their innocence will be long gone. Death, be it literal, of hope, of childhood, or of community, is inevitable.

As a viewer, you want to hold onto them as hard as they cling to each other. But, you know whatever comes next, they won’t be the kids you got to know anymore.

Image Credit: Warner Bros. 

2. Eerie, Indiana

Eerie Indiana

If you like the small-town vibes of Hawkins, Indiana, and want something similar without leaving the state, might we suggest you set your GPS to Eerie, Indiana?

The single-season gem tells the story of New Jersey transplant Marshall Teller. Like any kid used to the hustle and bustle of the Garden State, the quiet of the less than 20,000 strong Eerie is disquieting to young Marshall. However, he quickly learns it isn’t the exurb atmosphere that’s giving him the goosebumps. Instead, it’s that Eerie really is, well, quite eerie.

Aimed at the younger set, Eerie, Indiana is an excellent warm-up for younger kids or scaredy-cats who might not yet be ready for a Demogorgon, but like the idea of bike-powered treks into the supernatural.

Image Credit: NBC. 

3. The Goonies

Goonies

On the “for the slightly younger set” side of the things, we also have the ’80s classic The Goonies. The titular Goonies are a collection of tween outcasts—stop me if you’ve heard this one—whose imaginative play runs headfirst into genuine danger.

This time out, there’s nothing supernatural going on. Instead, it is a tale of criminals, pirate gold, and a good-hearted, if startingly looking, man named Sloth (John Matuszak). However, the film evokes many of the same heebie-jeebies as Things in its early going. Moreover, it revels in the sense that there’s a world unfolding just under our attention—literally in this case. These kids have discovered it, but because of their age and how fantastical it sounds, adults will neither believe them nor offer to help.

Bonus points for Things’ Sean Astin as the Goonies’ quiet leader Mikey.

Image Credit: Warner Bros. 

4. Locke & Key

Locke Key

Two seasons in, Locke & Key is a great transitional object for a kid looking to get ready for and then jump into Stranger Things. Season 1, with its intense focus on youngest Locke family member Bode (Jackson Robert Scott), feels younger and lighter than Stranger Things while still being scarier than Eerie, Indiana. Bode probably would be too young acting to hang out with the Things’ kids, but you can see him looking up to them. It’s fun and fantastical with a fair amount of the supernatural.

However, it still serves the interpersonal as the Lockes struggle to accept the family patriarch’s death and fit in in a new town. Key manages to tap into a similar sense of being isolated and dependent on yourself and your friends while feeling enough uniquely New England and modern to stand apart from Hawkins, IN.

Season 2, on the other hand, goes darker and more challenging as the POV shifts to older siblings Kinsey (Emilia Jones) and Tyler (Connor Jessup). This duo would absolutely ride with Nancy (Natalia Dyer), Steve (Joe Keery), and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton). They can also appreciate what it’s like to lose someone to the void—think Barb (Shannon Purser)—or struggle against possession like Will (Noah Schnapp).

Image Credit: Netflix.

5. Super 8

Super 8

Super 8, in many ways, is Stranger Things but sci-fi. The era and vibe are incredibly similar—80s (actually 1979 in this case, but it reads more or less the same), a close group of tweens with an enthusiasm for pop culture. A shadowy organization’s screw-up deposits a strange creature in the town with potentially disastrous consequences, and only the kids seem equipped or interested in handling the problem.

If Things is more on the Stephen King side of the 80s entertainment vibe, Super 8 is almost pure Amblin. Think ET if you’re struggling to find the tone. The vibe of camaraderie is the same between both shows, but where Things breaks horror, 8 goes into weird—but still scary—science fiction. As such, the film has a bit more hopeful vibe and a sense that perhaps more solutions beyond violence exist.

Still, they evoke each other enough that the differences enhance, not detract from, their connection.

Image Credit: Paramount Pictures. 

6. Marvel’s Runaways

Marvels Runaways

What if super-science, magic, the dark arts, and more were all real? And what if the adults around you didn’t ignore it but actively used it for their own ends. In other words, what if you stumbled upon the evil kept just out of sight and learned it was your parents’ fault, all at the same time.

Marvel’s Runaways sees its teen protagonists encounter this very situation when they stumble upon their parents, an organization known as The Pride, engaging in the ritualistic sacrifice of a girl practically their age.

While the protagonists are more Nancy or Steve’s age, the show feels younger in its scares. It’s also WAY heavier on the soap stuff. Nonetheless, it has that feel of “us against the evil/the world/the adults” that animates Things as well. If you prefer your tales of hidden evils and young heroes to be a bit more superhero-y and soapy, this will likely be your jam.

Image Credit: Marvel Television. 

7. Jumanji

Jumanji

It can be easy to forget that Stranger Things all began with a game. That round of Dungeons and Dragons in Mike’s (Finn Wolfhard) basement is the last moment anything was normal for Hawkins or the kids of Hawkins, IN.

The events of Jumanji, too, begin with a game. And before our kid protagonists Peter (Bradley Pierce) and Judy (Kirsten Dunst) know it, otherworldly elements invade and try to suck them into a world not their own.

This 1995 incarnation of Jumanji would inspire the 2017 reboot with a video game component in place of the board game. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and its sequel Jumanji: The Next Level are both fun interpretations of the idea and well worth a look. However, the ’95 original captures the essence of Things in a much closer way. It is that version that really makes you feel like the world is under attack by something from another plane and fear what might happen if you crossover to that place.

Also, those monkeys? F***ing terrifying!

Image Credit: Sony Pictures. 

8. I Am Not Ok With This

I Am Not Ok With This

What if Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), instead of being kidnapped and forced to develop her skills in a secret test facility with no interaction with peers, just grew up like every other kid in the suburbs. For better and worse, she’d end up a lot like I Am Not Ok With This’s protagonist Sydney Novak (Sophia Lillis).

A telekinetic whose powers are increasingly manifesting and challenging what little control she has, Sydney’s just trying to survive her high school years without hurting herself or someone else. Unfortunately, hormones and horrible fellow teens make that possibility increasingly unlikely.

Lillis is at least as good as Sydney as Brown is as Eleven while playing very different notes. Her supporting cast, including Sofia Bryant and fellow IT alum Wyatt Oleff, is decidedly smaller than Things but equally great.

Of all our choices, this probably feels the most different from the more energetic, action-oriented Things. However, it’s too great not to include.

Image Credit: Netflix. 

9. Firestarter

Firestarter

Speaking of Eleven, she has a kindred spirit in the similarly lab-raised as a weapon Charlie McGee (Drew Barrymore).

There’s plenty about Firestarter that pales in comparison to the source material or is just a bit too cheesy, but its central performance is not one of them. Barrymore nails the sense of innocence and incredible danger that would no doubt saturate a person like Charlie. Eleven is likely more powerful, but Charlie feels much scarier.

The movie also creates an interesting study of how it matters who saves you. Eleven finds support in the tweens and teens of Hawkins as well as Sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour) and Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder). They protect her, but they also attempt to give her something of a normal life for a kid her age. In contrast, Charlie’s dad Andrew (David Keith) saves her. He undoubtedly loves her, but he only tries to keep her alive and safe; he never even seems to be seeking life for her beyond the run. You can see the difference in how the characters evolve from there.

If you like your tales of psychically powerful girls/women a bit gorier and, well, dirtier, you may want to give Brian DePalma’s The Fury a spin in Firestarter’s place.

Image Credit: Universal Pictures. 

10. The Wilds

The Wilds scaled

If what you especially love about Stranger Things is friends banding together against a common but possibly unbeatable foe, but wished that those friends were all teen girls, then we have just the ticket for you. 2019’s unexpected Amazon Prime hit The Wilds.

While the threats in it are entirely manmade, the sense of almost supernatural danger is quite similar. If whoever ran Hawkins Laboratory decided to do group experiments on “normal” teenage girls, it might look and feel a lot like this.

There’s plenty of twists and turns, so we’re hesitant to go any deeper. So instead, we’ll just promise you top-notch performances and inescapable feelings of dread. Just like they make ’em back in Indiana.

Image Credit: Amazon Studios. 

11. Stand by Me

Stand By Me

It’s the 1950s, and a group of boys has decided to spend a summer day venturing into the woods. They’ve heard rumors of a dead body somewhere deep in the forest. The forbidden draw of it proves simply too much to resist.

Not much in common with Stranger Things, right? And yet, here it is on this list.

Well, for one thing, Stand by Me is an adaptation of the short story “The Body” written by horror legend and Stranger Things’ godfather Stephen King. As such, the bittersweet sense of standing at the cliff of childhood pervades both. Thirty-plus years may separate them, but that feeling is universal. The narrator of Stand declares, “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?” It is a sentiment that Things seems animated by as well.

For another, even with the lack of the supernatural, this film still has that sense of a world of kids acting, interacting, and confronting peril in ways that their parents are largely or entirely oblivious about. It possesses that same queasy sense of being free while knowing this is above your head.

Image Credit: Colombia Pictures. 

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This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Featured Image Credit: Maggie Lovitt. 

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Tim Steven is a sad tomato, Tim Stevens is three miles of bad road. He’s also a therapist, staff writer and social media manager for The Spool, and a freelance writer with publications like ComicsVerse, Marvel.com, CC Magazine, and The New Paris Press. His work has been quoted in Psychology Today, The Atlantic, and MSN Ireland. Feel free to find him @UnGajje on Twitter or in a realm of pure imagination.